Kona’s unusual Magic Link design is a winner and the new-look finishing kit on 2009 Konas help to make the CoilAir Deluxe look gorgeous. However, it’s flexible frame and wheels leave it wayward in turns and its wide bars might not fit through every gap.
A surprise introduction last year, Kona’s twin spring Magic system is now an established part of their line-up. The kick-over link definitely splits the CoilAir Deluxe into a climbing Hyde and a gravity Jekyll, but is the extra weight and flex worth the gain?
Ride & handling: a kind of Magic
While some ‘innovations’ make such little difference you wonder why they’ve bothered, the effect of Kona’s new kick-over link is obvious immediately. Under normal loads the rocker just drives through the standard can Fox RP2 shock. This runs best with less sag to give a relatively tight cross-country feel with less bob than normal Kona set-ups.
The ‘Magic’ happens when a sudden hit drives through the slightly off-centre linkage, or a square edge pulls the rear wheel back. At this point the link kicks in, opening up an extra 35.5mm (1.4in) of travel that’s softer than the main shock. It lengthens the wheelbase and slackens the angles at the same time, so you’re getting a smoother, more stable ride character.
Impressively there’s no sign that you’re switching between shock modes either, just a smoothing out of the ride as and when you need it. You can also change the preload and the height of the coil to adjust when it kicks in and alter how close feels next to the shock when it does.
But it’s not all good news – for a start there’s a lot more frame flex and distortion along the baseline than on a conventional bike. This translates to a high side-twang and wandering wheels if you push the bike too hard.
Lack of a top-out bumper on the coil shock causes a big clunk on fast extensions too, meaning that the CoilAir cruised descents, but was the least encouraging when it came to pushing the pace. And although it pedals well for its travel category, its 35lb weight means getting up the hill is about enduring rather than enjoying the experience.
Frame: business up front, party in the back
Up front, it’s Kona business as usual – square-headed Klump tubing keeps the tapered head tube on the straight and narrow, a kinked top tube provides standover clearance and the long rocker link gets trimmed with neat laser-etched bearing caps.
Out back, completely separate ‘DOPE’ dropout and rear pivot sections bolt onto the fat chainstays to give replacement and different rear axle options. Other useful touches include room inside the mainframe for a water bottle, an optional floating brake arm mount and masses of mudroom. Despite doubled-up cable guides in key areas there are still some big loops knocking against your knees as you pump through the travel.
Kona assure us that new forged and CNC-machined bottom ‘Magic’ section of frame is amply tough, despite its skinny appearance. The extended lower mandibles of the chainstays, which fix onto the Magic link, put a lot of swing low in the chariot, however.
Equipment: split personality
Just like the suspension, Kona have given the CoilAir a split kit personality. The big Fox 36 Float fork is on the money for manhandling the trail into submission and the squared 70mm stem and 27in bars keep the connection tight from ground to glove – without having to worry about tree gaps or having the bars in your belly on climbs.
Flat pedals as standard mean sticky shoes, not stiff SPDs, are the intended footwear for getting the best from the bike.
Big rotors on the powerful SLX brakes mean you can fire it deep into danger without worrying too.
While they help keep the bike from straying too close to an uplift-only 40lb (18kg), the wheels undermine the aggressive kit elsewhere. Even with a bolted rear axle, the Mavic Crossline wheels warp and bow noticeably if you sideload them hard in slides. The same grumbles apply about skinny single-ply tyres on 35lb (15.8kg) bikes.
Looks-wise the CoilAir is sharp stuff. Kona’s own brand kit has had a makeover for 09. The satin gunmetal finish and laser etching add a real high class feel to their whole range.